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How to Engage Others in Online Communities

When you’re engaging with current and potential online community members, respect their space and privacy, but find common ground. Here are a few tips for engaging with your community on the social networks:

  • Don’t be aggressive. Chatting with people who may be a good fit for your community is fun, but making every interaction a push to join the community means you’ll lose friends and members.

    When folks are interacting with you online, they know who you are, either because they’ve socialized with you before or because they read your profile before engaging with you. If they like you, they’ll follow you to your community.

  • Ask questions. If you’re not engaging people in conversation, you may as well be talking to yourself. It’s fun to make statements and share snippets throughout the day, but you’ll get more response if you ask questions. Every response is a discussion waiting to happen.

  • Share. Sharing is what social networking is all about. People like to have fun, and sharing videos or articles and making them laugh will help you gain more friends and followers. Sharing discussion-worthy news items will help engage more serious types and show that your community isn’t all fluff.

  • Drop links sparingly. There’s a thin line between sharing and spamming, and if you’re not careful, you can cross that line and drive people away. Sharing occasional bits of fun or news is fine, but making every comment or update a link back to your stuff is spam. You’ll get a bad reputation, and so will your brand.

  • Make new friends (but keep the old). Use the social networks to make new friends each day. Find a few who share your interests and friend or follow them. Respond to their questions and comments, and they may friend or follow you in turn. Don’t neglect your old friends, however. It’s equally as important to keep them engaged as well.

  • Let nonmembers of your community know what you’re talking about. If you have a fun promotion or interesting discussion happening on your blog or Facebook page, invite others to join in. It’s not spammy to share your own fun once in a while.

  • Remember the little details. Find out as much as you can about the regular members of your community. Make note of birthdays and send out birthday wishes. Find out about hobbies and share information of interest. Don’t be afraid to call members out by name. Members appreciate it when you remember little personal things about them.

  • Retweet. Retweeting is fun. It allows you to support a member who shared something awesome, and it may set off a wonderful chain of retweets, raising more awareness for the original commenter.

    Avoid vanity retweets — retweets of nice things that people say about you — because they make you look like a fool.

  • Know when to take the discussion private. Having a dialogue with another member or social-networking friend is the point of the whole thing, but sometimes other people get tired of reading your conversation. If a discussion gets too long or too personal, take it private.

  • Disclose. Be honest with your community members. If you’re using the social networks to sell, drop an affiliate link, or direct someone to a sales page, you have to let them know. It’s illegal and unethical to be coy about selling.

Social networking pages and accounts are personal. Though you socialize with others online, you’re not what your members would consider a close and personal friend. Members may be interested in following your brand on the social networks in order to learn news, participate in contests, and interact, but they’re not necessarily looking to be your personal friend beyond all of that. Try not to invade their private space.

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